The McKinney-Vento Act is designed to address the problems that homeless children and youth have faced in enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school. Under this act, each state educational agency must ensure that each homeless child and youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public pre-school education, as other children and youth.
Homeless children and youth should have access to the educational and other services that they need to enable them to meet the same challenging state student academic achievement standards to which all students are held. In addition, homeless students may not be separated from the mainstream school environment.
States and school districts are required to review and undertake steps to revise laws, regulations, practices, or policies that may act as a barrier to the enrollment, attendance, or success in school or homeless children and youth.
According to the McKinney-Vento Act, a homeless student is defined as one who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. More specifically, this means the following:
- Sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship, or similar reason (doubled-up)
- Living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds due to lack of adequate alternative accommodations
- Living in emergency or transitional shelters
- Abandoned in hospitals
- Awaiting foster care placement
- Living in a public or private place not designed for humans to live
- Living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, etc.
- Migratory children living in above circumstances
- Unaccompanied youth who are experiencing the above circumstances
School officials or school personnel who may be involved or engaged in the task of identifying homeless children and youth include:
- Federal Programs Coordinator
- At-Risk Coordinator
- English as a Second Language (ESL) Supervisor
- Building-level administrator
- Guidance counselor
- School social worker
- School nurse
- School secretary
- ESL teacher
- Regular classroom teacher
The role of the school counselor in the identification of homeless children and youth includes the following:
- Becoming familiar with the common characteristics of homeless children in order to expeditiously lend assistance to their needs.
- Contacting the school district's liaison for homeless children and youth in order to initiate the provision of other services.
- Informing teachers in a confidential manner, after acquiring parental permission, of homeless students in their classrooms and of their current living situations and how this may affect the student's academic performance.
- Ensuring that homeless students are afforded every opportunity that other students have.
- Contacting the student's previous school(s) in order to obtain records and to ensure continuation of services.
- Identifying local community resources and materials to assist parents, students, and faculty.
- Providing conflict resolution training and anger management skills training for homeless children and youth.
- Providing information on cross-age and peer tutoring services for homeless children and youth.
The school social workers' role regarding services for homeless students includes the following:
- Maintaining open communication with community agencies such as area shelters, economy motels, etc. in order to identify children and families in need of services.
- Assisting student services staff with interagency collaboration by identifying appropriate community resources and materials for homeless students/families.
- Maintaining an automated database to identify homeless students as well as identifying services delivered to elementary homeless children residing in Baldwin County.
- Distributing enrollment packets to shelters for parents of school-age homeless children.
- Increasing public and school awareness of homeless student issues.
- Providing information on attaining GED for parents of homeless students.
- Provide training in parenting skills for parents of homeless children.
The At-Risk Coordinator is responsible for ensuring that intervention services are provided for homeless students by working with building-level student services staff to refer homeless children and youth to appropriate programs. The At-Risk Coordinator for the Baldwin County School System supervises the school counselors who have a key role in the identification of homeless children and youth as well as the identification of services provided for homeless children.
The English as a Second language (ESL) Supervisor works with migratory/ESL students who are often, but not always, homeless.
The school nurse, like all other school personnel, must be familiar with the common characteristics of homeless children in order to assist them expediently. The school nurse's role will include the following:
- Making referrals to the school counselor or elementary social worker so that other services cha be granted without delay.
- Assisting homeless parents with the completion of medical records.
- Contacting the student's previous school to help obtain immunization and health records when necessary.
- Assisting parents in obtaining student's medical information from clinics where student received previous medical attention.
- Alerting principal, counselor and teachers of any serious medical condition of the student.
- Making arrangements for the student to be picked up when it is necessary to leave school due to illness and the parent is not available.
The school secretary or registrar plays a valuable role in the identification of homeless children and youth. They, too, should be familiar with the characteristics of homeless children in order to recognize them and to make appropriate referrals to the counselor and/or school social worker. The secretary/registrar should be trained to note the following:
- Occurrences of the same address for more than one family when printing newsletters and other mailing labels
- Listing of an economy motel or low-cost health facility for the student's address
- Incomplete or unusual enrollment records or the lack of school records
- Statements made by children and parents such as:
-"Our address is new; I can't remember it."
-"I don't know where we live."
-"We've been moved around a lot."
-"We're going through a bad time right now."
-"I don't remember the name of our previous school."
-"We're staying with relatives until we get settled."
- Anger or embarrassment of parents when asked about current address
- An appearance of confusion in parents when asked what school the child last attended
In an attempt to identify homeless children and youth, the classroom teacher should note the following:
- Chronic hunger and fatigue in student
- Erratic attendance and tardiness
- Grooming and personal hygiene/clothing that draw attention
- Consistent lack of school material and supplies or assignments
- Extremes in behavior-withdrawal, extreme shyness, aggression, anger
- Resistant to parting with personal possessions (e.g. putting coat in locker)
The National Center for Homeless Education at the SERVE Center is the US Department of Education's technical assistance provider for homeless education. The National Center for Homeless Education provides a comprehensive website, a toll-free hotline, online and face-to-face trainings, and informantional resources.